During questioning in the P.E.I. Legislature Wednesday about the province's nurse shortage, Health Minister James Aylward said Health PEI is recruiting using several methods — including working with Quebec to bring in French-speaking nurses.
The opposition parties were grilling Aylward during question period about how he plans to deal with an ongoing shortage of nurses, especially in light of revelations this week that Veterans Affairs Canada had recently hired away 32 nurses from Health PEI.
"We're working closely right now with Quebec as well, because Quebec goes to France every year to recruit upwards of 300 nurses," Aylward said in response to a question from Liberal Robert Henderson.
Aylward said France graduates thousands of new nurses every year.
"What we're looking at is bringing in 20 to 30 French-speaking nurses into the province so we can support facilities such as Chez Nous and other areas here that require bilingual-speaking nurses," Aylward said.
In November, Le Chez-Nous seniors' home in Wellington said it had been unable to open its new long-term care wing because it can't find nurses to work there.
Dozens of vacancies
When pressed about dozens of other nursing vacancies listed on the province's website, Aylward said Health PEI recently hired 20 nursing graduates, and has had expressions of interest from some of next year's graduating class.
He added that there are currently 14 internationally educated nurses about a year away from graduating from a bridge program to bring them in line with P.E.I.'s hiring requirements, and there are "robust" nursing recruitment efforts going on in Alberta, where the province is letting health-care staff go, including nurses.
Aylward added that the nursing shortage is a national problem, and previous governments "should have seen this coming."
'We're at the breaking point'
Green MLA Trish Altass circled back to the issue of DVA hiring away nurses from Health PEI. Those nurses are working on clearing up a backlog of tens of thousands of veterans' disability claims.
"Many of those nurses asked for a leave to pursue a new short-term opportunity and were denied, so they quit," she said. "Why didn't you grant these nurses leave?"
Aylward said that was a decision made by Health PEI, which he called a "standalone operation." He added he is working with P.E.I. MP Lawrence MacAulay, the federal minister of veterans affairs, on an agreement that would allow some of those nurses to be seconded back to Health PEI if the Island experienced a surge in COVID-19 cases.
Altass wanted to know if Aylward was investigating why the nurses chose to leave in the first place, mentioning other provinces had offered health-care professionals bonuses and extra vacation when COVID-19 cases were low. The P.E.I. Nurses' Union said Monday nurses are looking for "better work-life balance" and are feeling "undervalued, not appreciated and always being asked to do more with less."
Aylward replied he has instructed Health PEI's human resources department to conduct exit interviews with the nurses.
Henderson said he is worried long-term care homes on the Island may have to close because they don't have enough staff to operate safely.
"Staff are saying that we're at the breaking point ... where facilities may have to close, especially long-term care, where they cannot provide a safe work environment for their residents or for their staff."
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